DBA Doctor of Business Administration
3 Aug 2016

On The Executive Path? How a business doctorate can further your career

With so many students pursuing MBAs in the last decade, some notable voices are arguing that MBAs just aren’t as valuable as they used to be (US News, The Atlantic, Fortune). While the skills and critical thinking developed in an MBA program are invaluable to most organizations and can help one stand out from peers without MBAs, it is increasingly likely that your competition will have the same credential.

In order to get a leg up on the competition, prepare to transition into an executive role, or just bolster your job skills, many organizations now suggest attaining a business doctoral degree. A Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) or a PhD in Business Administration (or in Management, Organizational Leadership or Behavior; also sometimes referred to as a “business PhD”) demonstrates that a candidate is skilled in commercial and executive material at the highest levels, offering both prestige and a clear commitment to your field.

Below, we address some of the most common questions posed with regard to a DBA or a business PhD. While both degrees are excellent career choices, it’s important to note that there are some general differences in terms of the degrees’ emphases.

First things first: What is the difference between a business doctorate degree and an MBA?

Getting a DBA - How a business doctorate can further your career

While initially considered a terminal technical degree demonstrating the highest level of education attainable in the field of business focused on practical application, this is no longer the case. MBAs are generally focused on making students more adept at skills that they already possess, while doctoral degrees prepare students with new knowledge, enabling them to fill high-ranking managerial positions.

What is the difference between a PhD and a DBA?

Both the DBA and PhD are considered terminal degrees, representing the highest level of business education that one can complete. Additionally, both programs require completing a doctoral dissertation and stress the importance of publication for building your CV.

A DBA is considered a professional degree, meaning that the course material is focused on practical application rather than theoretical knowledge. As opposed to developing theories or becoming fluent in different research methods, DBA students generally work on the interdisciplinary application of various business concepts. DBA students usually work full time while completing monthly residencies in which they learn course material. Most DBA students have previously completed MBA programs and continue working in business environments upon degree completion, but some choose to transition to careers in the academy.

A PhD is considered an academic degree, meaning that the course material is focused on theoretical knowledge more than practical application. A PhD student in Business Administration or another business-related discipline generally works on developing or considering specific business models and theories rather than enacting them in practical environments. Persons who complete such programs are typically full-time students who expect to fill roles in academia upon graduation. An MBA is not required for entry to a PhD program.

Additionally, many programs combine characteristics from both the business PhD and DBA program, meaning that a student in such a program generally becomes adept at research, management, and application. Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business’s PhD in Business for Executives has gained recognition for its effective approach at combining components of both traditional business PhD and DBA programs.

Whichever program you choose, know that you will be contributing to your overall career advancement by pursuing a business doctorate degree.

How might a business doctorate degree help me further my career?


While the two degrees sometimes offer distinct paths, both the PhD and DBA provide the basis for career advancement and transition. Both programs teach you skills related to problem solving, business innovation, and management, while offering the additional boost to your personal brand by adding a credential at the end of your name. A recent study on business doctoral programs found that the greatest benefit of such programs is the manner in which they teach individuals how to conduct research, often culminating in publications that further demonstrate one’s commitment to their industry.

Another finding from the same study considered the intrinsic value that such programs provided to students as a whole. Apart from achieving career advancement or transformation, students noted the additional benefits related to discussing business strategies in a collaborative, non-competitive school environment, building strong social and business networks, becoming more confident in themselves, enjoying personal satisfaction, and learning new modes of thinking. Rather than simply becoming better employees, most students found that they became better people.

What business skills will I learn in a business doctoral program?

While business doctoral programs vary greatly in terms of content, most programs teach students how to conduct rigorous theoretical and/or practical research. Additionally, students learn various business tools, theories, and models to further their success in academic and commercial careers. Many students find that they become more adept at multitasking, statistical analysis, and innovative approaches to problem solving. Moreover, a doctoral education better prepares individuals to contribute directly to a business’s success, including learning how to tackle challenging organizational problems and hire and maintain highly qualified personnel.

DBA Doctor of Business Administration

In addition to gaining these skills, as a business doctoral student you will become an industry expert on the subject of your dissertation. You choose your dissertation topic, which will align with your specific interests and the areas in which you wish to develop further.

Some recent research topics include:

  • Can I Do It?A Mixed Methods Study Exploring Leader Self-Efficacy During Career Transitions of United States Air Force Officers
  • Immigration Policy and Immigrant Workers’ Impact on Georgia Peach Farming
  • Work-Life Balance Programs to Improve Employee Performance
  • Nonprofit Organizations Executives’ Lived Experiences of Quality Management: An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis

If you are interested in pursuing a business doctorate, make sure to explore all of the options out there, including part-time, full-time, and residency-based programs.

Final takeaways

Whether you are more interested in a PhD or a DBA, pursuing a business doctorate degree is a powerful way of advancing your professional portfolio. It also has the added benefit of offering you the opportunity to work in education. Many individuals with business doctorates find it extremely rewarding to teach a business course on occasion at a local or online university to extend their reach beyond their private sector employment.

No matter how you decide to apply your advanced degree, by obtaining a business doctorate you will undoubtedly learn a number of new skills while building lasting relationships and improving your confidence in your personal brand.

Keep Writing,
Katrina Oko-Odoi
Founder & Chief Editor

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